Monday, January 29, 2007

Continuation from Class 01/29

After leaving class today, I was thinking that when it comes to whistleblowing, I would hope that people would take a utilitarian view. If the good of most of society is going to benefit from the information made public by the whistleblower, then I think that is great! If I were a smoker, I would like to know what really was in my cigarettes. If I were a new pet owner, I would like to know if the new member to my household was possibly sick. Has anything really all that negative come out of whistleblowing? I know that if you are the one coming forward the whole topic may be different, but when it comes to whether or not to do it...I don't really see the question. Does that sound too naive? :o)


Blogger Professor Prenkert said...

Now I know some of you in the class have had a discussion of the ethics of whistleblowing in L316. Surely you have something to add here addressing Kelley's question.

Don't make me sic Professor Rubin on you!!

12:49 PM  
Blogger Valerie Munafo said...

I agree with Kelley that one should take a utilitarian view regarding whether or not to whistleblow. However, I believe that to be "morally" or "ethically" justified in whistleblowing, an employee must look at the public service that the information provides against the duty of loyalty to the company. Will the information they plan to expose truly be more beneficial if displayed in the mass media? Also, before running to the media with inside knowledge the employee should exhaust all of the available internal channels of communication.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

When looking at an ethics problem, there are several methods of analysis.

Like Valerie said, when taking a utilitarian approach, one must weigh a wide array of consequences. Not only should you think of the consequences to yourself, but also to the business and others involved. After you take all the benefits and "costs", you weigh them against each other and if the net result is a benefit, you go ahead with the action. But there are some flaws to this approach. First, the consequences considered are based on the biases of the analyst. Whose consequences do we consider, and for that matter, how do we measure these consequences to weigh against each other? For "The Insider" example, how do we measure the cost of the lives lost due to the increased nicotine addition?

This isn't the only approach to analyzing an ethical problem. Valerie brought up the concept of rights and duties. In this problem, we must consider how important the rights and duties one has in respect to employers and the public. As a matter of public interest, does the whistleblower have a duty to go public with this information, or does the employee have an overriding duty of loyalty to the employer?

This also ties in to the concept of virtue-based ethics. Virtue ethics claims that we should all strive to live up to virtues (or characteristics) we personally hold to be ethical. This approach asks the question, "Is this the kind of person I want to be?" and when deciding on an action, "Will I be able to sleep at night?". The problem with virtue-ethics is that it does not tell us how to rank or measure virtues against each other. In the whistleblowing example, we must weigh virtues such as honesty and compassion for those being harmed against other virtues, namely loyalty.

There are also ethics of caring. Applying this principle to whistleblowing, we must consider who we care about. How much do we care about the people being harmed versus fellow employees and managers (who may lose their jobs because of lost business due to the whistleblowing)?

Machiavelli discussed another ethical standard called pragmatism. Accepting the world as it is and trying to increase one's power is the key in this approach. Looking at whistleblowing pragmatically, I think one would be more inclined to "get in on the action" rather than expose the wrong-doers, as participating with higher-ups in the inappropriate behavior will most likely lead to faster promotion.

So as you can see, there are several ways of looking at an ethical problem. The key is to take many different approaches so you can discover and weigh the trade-offs in taking (or not taking) an action such as whistleblowing.

I think when we consider all of these approaches, whistleblowing is justified most of the time. I hesitate to say that it is always ethical because I would imagine there are some whistleblowers out there who report acts that (1) aren't illegal or (2) should be kept confidential for legitimate business reasons.

6:50 PM  
Blogger Sara Marker said...

I must have a really negative outlook on society, because before this class when someone said "whistleblower" I immediately pictured some whiney disgruntled employee who just wanted attention. I admit now after reading about specific cases I do feel that it can be beneficial but maybe sometimes it's best to be skeptical. In the case of Enron, sure blow the whistle, but if you just don't personally agree with what's being done and it's not illegal... maybe you should find a job that better suits your standards.

11:08 PM  
Blogger A F said...

I would like to relate this back to our readings from Monday.

I wholly agree that in both instances the "whistle" needed blowing, but how it is done is key.

For instance, in the case of Amy I think she did the right thing however I think her whistleblowing to the public probably would cause the death of more animals than it saves.

One of the distinctions no one has brought up is that whistleblowing doesn't always have to be public. If you are in an organization you can blow the "whistle" to management and not affect the firms public image.

I think that only in cases of egregious behavior is public whistleblowing appropriate. Otherwise we are encouraging people to blow the "whistle" for relatively minor issues. Since whistleblowing is supposed to be good for investors a public announcement of minor issue can cause serious harm to the investors and it could turn out just like Dr. Stockmann.

The whistleblower would become the "enemy of the people."

11:13 PM  

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